Arlington, Virginia – A new report by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that teenage drivers’ cellphone use actually increased in North Carolina after the state enacted a cellphone ban for young drivers, even though young drivers and their parents said they strongly support the restrictions. Parents and teenage drivers also said they believe the ban on hand-held and hands-free phone use is not being enforced. IIHS researchers have concluded that the law is not reducing cellphone use by teenagers.
North Carolina’s ban for drivers younger than age 18 is part of the state’s graduated licensing system. One to two months prior to the ban’s start on December 1, 2006, 11 per cent of teen drivers were observed using cellular phones as they left school in the afternoon. About five months after the ban took effect, almost 12 per cent of teen drivers were observed using phones, most of them hand-held. Nine per cent were holding phones to their ears, while less than one per cent were using hands-free devices, and about two per cent were observed dialing or texting. Cellphone use remained steady at about 13 per cent at comparison sites in South Carolina, where there is no restriction.
“Most young drivers comply with graduated licensing restrictions such as limits on nighttime driving and passengers, even when enforcement is low,” said Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research and an author of the study. “The hope in North Carolina was that the same would hold true for cellphone use, but this wasn’t the case. Teen drivers’ cellphone use actually increased a little. Parents play a big role in compliance with graduated licensing rules. Limiting phone use may be tougher for them since many want their teens to carry phones.”
Phone bans for young drivers are becoming commonplace as concerns mount about the contribution of distractions to teens’ elevated crash risk. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia restrict both hand-held and hands-free phone use by young drivers, while six states and D.C. ban all drivers from using hand-held phones.